Read yourself well with Shelf Help
A Good-for-You Read Each January, a slew of self-help books lands on my desk. In truth, I am tired of most; but I do recommend Shelf Help, a new initiative for reading yourself well (‘bibliotherapy’), which will be launched tomorrow by the publisher Vintage. The Shelf Help list offers a book a month, designed to focus on different areas of mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing as a ‘literary alternative to self-help books’. Yes, it’s clever marketing (the books are all published by Vintage) but I am signing up. The enticing collection starts with The Examined Life by psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz, which recounts the case histories of 31 patients.
Grosz, 61, wrote his book partly for his two young children: ‘By this age my father had had two heart attacks; my mother died at 64. I thought, if I’m not here, what would I want my children to know as they grow up? So the tales address some of life’s biggest problems, ones we all face.
‘One patient came from a dysfunctional family and had had a terrible childhood but became a good father and friend. When I asked him how he had found his role models, he told me, “I read novels”.’ (In this context, Grosz recommends the March book Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon, about parenting.)
One of the significant differences between Grosz’s book and traditional self-help tomes is that it does not offer explicit solutions or strategies. The compelling, simply told reports relate moments of change, breakthroughs. ‘The key is in the subtitle: How We Lose and Find Ourselves,’ he explains. Although reading a book cannot simulate the experience of delving into your psyche with a skilled analyst, it can have a significant effect, he has found. ‘My experience is that people find a particular story affects them, and they make some connection or gain some understanding. Then they may see a possibility of changing something about themselves.’
Grosz’s message for the New Year is not to be frightened of change. ‘I am not suggesting totally reinventing yourself: the shift is often micro – but it can make a big difference.’ PS The list is perfect fodder for a book club, www.vintage-books.co.uk/books/shelfhelp.
We have three sets of the shelf-help book list, each worth over £100, to give away
• January The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz • February Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson • March Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon • April Nature Cure by Richard Mabey • May How to Live by Sarah Bakewell • June Teach Us to Sit Still by Tim Parks • July Heartbreak Hotel by Deborah Moggach • August Waterlog by Roger Deakin • September Nothing to be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes • October Stoner by John Williams • November Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks • December The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal.
For your chance to win, phone 0901 154 4315 leaving your details. Calls cost 51p plus any network extras. Or text SHELF followed by your name to 65700. Texts cost 50p plus standard network charge. Alternatively, post your entry to Shelf Help List, PO Box 5003, Dept YBC , Alton, Hants GU 34 9DA . All entries must be received by 11.59pm on 25 January. SMS and phone helpline: 0800 839173.*
I asked dental hygienist Larryl Barlin (lciad.co.uk) which mouthwash she recommends. Her top choice is Ultradex Daily Oral Rinse by Retardex, a multi-action product that is proven to whiten teeth, eliminate bad breath, and help prevent tooth decay, gum problems and plaque by killing bacteria. £8.15, from www.boots.com.
‘This is brilliant!’ exclaimed my husband when he tried the Lumoback, a slim sensor waistband that monitors your posture. Slouch and it vibrates to remind you to straighten up. It connects wirelessly to an app, which tracks your movements, calories burnt and time spent sitting and standing. Change small bad habits and you should improve health generally. Buy the sensor waistband, £129.95, from www.store.apple.com/uk, then download the app.